Italy covers up nude statues for Iran leader’s visit

Artwork blocked during Rouhani and Renzi’s joint address at Capitoline Museum

 Roman  statues  at Rome’s Capitoline Museum. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Roman statues at Rome’s Capitoline Museum. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images


Italian officials keen to spare the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, any possible offence on his visit to Rome covered up nude statues at the city’s Capitoline Museum, where Mr Rouhani and Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, made a joint statement.

Photographs of Monday’s visit show both men standing near a grand equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor.

Nude statues in the vicinity were covered by large white panels.

A spokesman for Mr Renzi did not immediately return a request for comment.

A spokesman for the city of Rome, which manages the museum, said any decision regarding the ceremony with Mr Rouhani and the display of artwork had been made by the prime minister’s office.

The decision to cover the artwork was seen as a sign of respect for the Iranian president, according to the Italian news agency Ansa.

Following his meeting with the prime minister on Monday, Mr Rouhani met Pope Francis at the Vatican.

He was only the second Iranian leader to be received in the Vatican, following the 1999 visit of Mohamed Khatami to Pope John Paul II.

Describing his visit with the pontiff as “a real pleasure”, Mr Rouhani also called on Francis to pray for him.

Earlier in the morning, during an Italo-Iranian business forum, he set the tone of the visit, saying: “The Qu’ran asks Muslims to above all protect churches and synagogues, that is what tolerance means.”

In another gesture, Italian officials abstained from serving any alcohol at an official dinner held in Rouhani’s honour, abiding by a standard diplomatic gesture for visiting Muslim dignitaries.

Mr Rouhani’s visit to Europe - his first since sanctions were lifted in Iran - was supposed to take place in November but was delayed following the Paris terror attacks.

Trading partners

Europe was Iran’s largest trading partner before the imposition of sanctions.

More than 100 Italian executives met top Iranian officials during the Rome visit, during which Italian infrastructure companies agreed to at least €17 billion of deals and investments.

It was not the first time that Renzi - a Florentine who is usually a proud advocate for Italy’s rich cultural heritage - has sought to be culturally sensitive in a high-stakes meeting.

In October, a cordon was placed around a nude statue by the American artist Jeff Koons during a visit to Florence by Mr Renzi and Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

It was noted at the time that another sculpture - Michelangelo’s David - remained uncovered throughout.

Guardian service